“Why I’m Not a Vegan” — Title of latest Mark Bittman piece

Then he proceeds to tell us all the reasons he should be.

Mark Bittman, New York Times

Mark Bittman, New York Times

Confusing, to say the least. As a big fan of Mark Bittman, I continue to be mystified by his refusal to take a stand and tell us with abundant clarity exactly why we should be eating a whole foods, plant-based diet. He probably knows more about the consequences of our food choices than all the other prominent journalists combined—yet he still has a tendency to “beat around the bush.”

As for not using the “vegan” moniker to describe himself, I agree with him on that decision but for different reasons. Mark seems to think that we may actually “need” to eat some animal protein so he never really closes the deal with his readers. In an article that clearly describes a plethora of health, social and environmental issues of eating animal foods, Mark also throws in this confusing paragraph:

Animal products have a special place in this discussion, because unlike hyperprocessed foods they have been a part of the diet of most humans since humans existed, and because their concentration of nutrients makes consuming at least some of them convenient and perhaps even smart.

I think BEEF Magazine is pleased that Mark is helping to keep the public confused.

I think BEEF Magazine is pleased that Mark is helping to keep the public confused.

Mark goes on to say that he follows his own VB6 plan—vegan before 6 p.m. That probably means that he eats animal protein almost every night and he also admits to cheating. That probably means that he eats animal protein frequently before 6 p.m. I just did a search for “vb6.” Nothing else. The first thing I saw was an article in BEEF Magazine—saying that Mark Bittman wasn’t pleasing anyone with that formula for eating.

My problem with Mark’s latest article is that it does nothing to help the reader understand the extreme gravity of our current trend in feeding the human population. When we’re talking about the most destructive, harmful, inefficient and unsustainable diet-style imaginable (his words) — when are we going to get real serious about helping citizens everywhere understand exactly what is at stake?

In my opinion, what is at stake is the longterm sustainability of the human species. After studying this topic for ten years (and investing over 10,000 hours), I concluded in 2012 that it’s not about “saving the planet.” The planet is going to be just fine. She has seen mass extinctions before and will see them in the future. It’s our future as a species that’s in jeopardy.

Dr. T. Colin Campbell agrees. In his new book, Whole, he writes about the need to get serious about fixing our human feeding model:

“No less than our future as a species hangs in the balance.”

I am thrilled that Dr. Campbell endorsed our book on page 167 and that our mutual publisher, BenBella, placed a full page ad for Healthy Eating, Healthy World in one of the last few pages of the book.

I am thrilled that Dr. Campbell endorsed our book on page 167 and that our mutual publisher, BenBella, placed a full page ad for Healthy Eating, Healthy World in one of the last few pages of the book.

As for my reasons for not using the “vegan” moniker. Like Mark, I don’t describe myself as a vegan—although I am much closer to being one than he is. Since beginning my journey towards whole foods, plant-based eating in 2002, I have never liked the “V” words, vegan and vegetarian. Primarily for three reasons:

  1. They’re more focused on what you’re avoiding—not what you ARE eating.
  2. Vegan and vegetarian diets are not necessarily healthy—and can be very unhealthy.
  3. They both carry a negative stigma that means different things to different people.

When I speak to vegan or vegetarian groups, they often seemed surprised to hear me say that I am not a vegan. But I quickly add that I would wager that I eat more broccoli than any man in the state of Connecticut. I also mention that I never plan to have any animal products and I never buy any. I even opted for cloth seats in my new car. I like the way the recent Kaiser Permanente Plant-Based paper treated the terms:Kaiser Permanente logo

Physicians should advocate that it is time to get away from terms like vegan and vegetarian and start talking about eating healthy, whole, plant-based foods (primarily fruits and vegetables) and minimizing consumption of meat, eggs, and dairy products. Physicians should be informed about these concepts so they can teach them to staff and patients.

So, Mark Bittman, the authors of the Kaiser Permanente piece and J. Morris Hicks are all in agreement. We’re all saying that we should be eating more whole plants and less animal and processed foods.

The 4Leaf level is reached at over 80% of your calories from whole plants.

The 4Leaf level is reached at over 80% of your calories from whole plants.

In my case, our 4Leaf for Life concept was built on this oft-quoted statement by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, “The closer we get to eating a diet of whole, plant-based foods, the better off we will be.” So we set the top bar at 80%.

That means that the 4Leaf level is reached when you’re consuming at least 80% of your calories from whole plants. I’d be willing to bet that the average vegetarian (most of whom eat lots of dairy, eggs & fish and refined carbs) are getting less than 20% of their daily calories from whole plants.

Back to Mark’s article. As usual, he demonstrated his broad knowledge on the subject of food and the far-reaching consequences of the choices we make. And he acknowledges that most Americans are making the wrong choices most of the time. They’re eating way too much animal and refined carb calories and not nearly enough whole plants. He also touched on the many non-dietary reasons for choosing more whole plants:

[T]here are non-dietary reasons to eat fewer animal products. Even if their nutritional profile were unambivalently beneficial, they use too many resources: land, water, energy and — not the least important — food that could nourish people. (To the often-asked question, “How will we feed the 9 billion?” — used to defend a host of objectionable agricultural practices — many of us say, “Focus more on feeding people plants and less on feeding them animals.

NY Times LogoI always enjoy reading Mark Bittman’s work in the New York Times and find that I am usually inspired to blog about what he says. He makes me think. Over the past two years, I have probably featured Mark in at least fifty of my nearly 800 blogposts.

I encourage you to read his latest article at the link provided below. For your convenience, I’ve also provided links to  few of my other blogs that were inspired by Mr. Bittman.

Handy 4-piece take-charge-of-your-health kit—from Amazon.com

Want to find out how healthy your family is eating? Take our free 4Leaf Survey. It takes less than five minutes and you can score it yourself. After taking the survey, please give me your feedback as it will be helpful in the development of our future 4Leaf app for smartphones. Send feedback to jmorrishicks@me.com

International. We’re now reaching people in over 100 countries. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter or get daily blog notices by “following” us in the top of the right-hand column. For occasional updates, join our periodic mailing list.

To order more of my favorite books—visit our online BookStore now

J. Morris Hicks, working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

For help in your own quest to take charge of your health, you might find some useful information at our 4Leaf page or some great recipes at Lisa’s 4Leaf Kitchen. Got a question? Let me hear from you at jmorrishicks@me.com. Or give me a call on my cell at 917-399-9700.

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—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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10 Responses to “Why I’m Not a Vegan” — Title of latest Mark Bittman piece

  1. Kathy Roach says:

    Did you really mean to write that you bet the average vegetarian gets less that 20% of their daily calories from whole food. I was hoping you meant less than 80%.

    • J. Morris Hicks says:

      Hi Kathy, I am basing my estimates on my own observations and after conducting some 5,000 4Leaf Surveys. Most vegans and vegetarians made their diet-style decision because of animal rights or environmental reasons. And although they don’t eat ANY animal flesh, many of them don’t score too well on our 4Leaf Survey, which estimates the percentage of one’s weekly calories from whole, plant-based foods. And as we know, most vegetarians eat cheese, eggs and fish in addition to a large amount of processed carbs.

      After taking the survey, they realize that much of what they’re eating in not health-promoting. Things like potato chips, olive oil, bread, pasta, cakes, pies, white rice, fruit juice, etc. While some of these foods are more nutritious than others—none of them are whole plants—and that’s what we’re measuring. We must remember that the average American only gets about 5% of her calories from whole plants and our 1Leaf level begins at 20%, which would be 4 times as nutritious.

      Our 4Leaf Survey is all about health and T. Colin Campbell’s statement that “the closer we get to eating a whole foods, plant-based diet the better off we will be.” Click here to take the 4Leaf Survey. https://hpjmh.com/4-leaf/take-the-4leaf-survey/

  2. Andrea says:

    I feel compelled once again to point out that “vegan” is not a diet. It is an ethical lifestyle choice by definition. If you eat a plant based diet, awesome, great! But maybe you also wear fur or leather jackets. You are not a vegan. And let me point out that many vegans, who are vegan for the animals or the environment, do NOT eat a WFPB diet. They eat unhealthy or processed foods. Although I think veganism is best represented by eating a healthy diet so as to quiet those who think we “need meat” to be healthy (like my mother in law, who criticized our eating habits Until she died of colon cancer at 69), I don’t really care what other vegans eat. It’s none of my business.

    I must disagree that veganism is defined by what you cannot eat. Simply untrue. Only people who try to convince us we are deprived in some way would say that. I was at an amazing potluck yesterday and we were all laughing that with the incredible variety of amazing foods including fabulous cookies, pies and an ice cream cake, that omnivores think we don’t eat well.

  3. Mark Bittman is increasing awareness of how to practice a more sustainable, healthy lifestyle to a wide audience. I heard him speak 2 years ago, and he did an outstanding job. Given where on the spectrum the SAD is, I say he is doing a fine job. I don’t agree with vegan before 6:00PM, but this his his choice. He did reverse his diseases. He is talking about plant-based. He is reaching a huge audience. If everyone was VB6, what a different world we would live in! Let’s not be dogmatic with diet with the entire world. Who knows, people may incorporate a WFPB into their diet after reading his article. We all began our journey to WFPB at a different place. I say let’s meet people where they are at and help them our their journey.

    • salbers12 says:


      It is not a matter of being “dogmatic”. It is about Bittman’s double talk being confusing – yes/no. up/down, left/right, his nebulous pandering to a mass audience does more harm than good. Dr Esselstyn says it best. He hates moderation because it KILLS. And to demand irrefutable evidence before turning vegan is recognised as ridiculous by anyone who understands the scientific method. There is nothing in science that is irrefutable but a preponderance of evidence is the practical standard that WFPB has met for many years. Bittman;s logic will keep him smoking cigarettes indefinetely.

  4. John Benjamin Sciarra says:

    “I’m on a whole foods, plant based diet…” When I say that to people their eyes gloss over, mouth droops, quizzical look develops. A What??? However, when I say I’m a herbivore and smile, most people get that.

  5. salbers12 says:

    Media vultures are routinely dancing around the optimal diet issue to placate readers and deliver words. A great way to reduce their noxious din is to get them back on a SAD diet and let nature take its course.

  6. Salvatore Liggieri says:

    The plus for the word Vegan is that it is one word. We need one word for the “whole food plant based” phrase. McDougal uses Starchavore but I don’t think that will catch on with Vegans nor the general population.

    Maybe we should have a contest to name our WFPB lifestyle.

  7. Being, and calling onself, vegan is not a bad thing. Veganism is a way of life, a philosophy of loving and caring for the whole planet and not just oneself. We must remember, life isn’t only about taking care of onesself – it’s about taking care of life of all species upon mother earth. Being vegan, for health reasons alone, is in my opinion, selfish. Being vegan because one cares for all life, including ones own is generous and loving. I am proud to call myself VEGAN and believe the term must come out of the closet and we must let the world know who we are and why we are vegan. Let’s stop being fearful of the V word proudly stand up for what it truely represents.

  8. Joanne Irwin says:

    Bittman’s article gave me a headache! He see-sawed to be vegan or not to be vegan through his entire piece. However, in the final analysis he acknowledged that more people than not are becoming aware of including more plants in their diet. And that’s a good thing. I, too, do not embrace the term ‘vegan’ or ‘vegetarianism’. Whole foods, plant based is the way to go – for health, disease prevention, disease survival, and sustainability of our species. Perhaps 1.5% of us are whole hog committed; some ‘cheat’ a la Bittman, others are, at least, consuming way less red meat and upping their intake of fruits, veggies, legumes and grains, and then there’s the rest of the population that are just fine eating everything their little brains crave, and popping their pills ad infinitum! Oh, Mark, and to say ‘broccoli’ is just ‘broccoli’ – well read the research. Broccoli is a super food and next time you shop, you might want to give it a hug!

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